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Speaking at Kennedy Space Center last month, President Obama tried to reassure critics that the administration's new, scaled-back plans for NASA won't constitute a deathblow for manned space exploration.

"By the mid-2030s, I believe we can send humans to orbit Mars and return them safely to Earth," Obama said. "And a landing on Mars will follow. And I expect to be around to see it."

Critics such as Dr. Robert Zubrin identify a marked difference in tone between this speech and President John F. Kennedy's 1962 "We choose to go to the moon" speech. Zubrin is the founder of the Mars Society, an international association committed to furthering the goal of exploration and settlement of Mars.

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